Steve Bullock

Montana Governor Steve Bullock

addresses the Downtown Billings Rotary Club’s luncheon Monday.

Larry Mayer, for the Independent Record

HELENA (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock in May will convene another summit focused on a persistent wage gap between men and women that, he says, ranks Montana 39th in the nation in pay equity.

On Thursday, Bullock visited with his Equal Pay for Equal Work Task Force that he formed shortly after taking office three years ago. He urged the task force, meeting in Helena for a work session, to continue the task of reducing the wage gap.

With the economy a focal point of the governor's race, Bullock is attempting to position himself as an advocate of the working class.

His likely opponent in November, Republican Greg Gianforte, has been criticizing the governor for the state's relatively dismal standing on wages.

Bullock wants to see wages rise — particularly among women who aren't being paid fairly. He said Montana women make about 67 cents for every dollar made by men. And he noted the slow pace in which women are catching up to men in salaries.

"At this rate, the gap won't close until the year 2080. That's unacceptable," he told the group. "I'd match our Montana work ethic up against any other state in the nation, and 39th in the country in pay equity is flat out not OK."

Last year, Bullock sent three proposals to the state legislature to help address wage inequities, but only one of those bills made into law. That law extended unemployment insurance benefits to victims of domestic violence.

The legislature, however, voted down legislation that would have allowed workers to discuss salaries without repercussions from their employer.

The task force is drafting an agenda for the upcoming summit, which would be the third in as many years.

The task force is made up of government officials, including members of the governor's cabinet, union leaders and businesspeople.

Bullock wants employers to take a hard look at what they pay employees, and to make sure that women are being paid the same as men for comparable work. "When working women prosper, overall, families prosper," the governor said..

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